[This was posted to comp.lang.c by its author, David Anderson, on 1994-05-06.]

# The ``Clockwise/Spiral Rule'' (for Pointers)

## By David Anderson

There is a technique known as the ``Clockwise/Spiral Rule'' which enables any C programmer to parse in their head any C declaration!

There are three simple steps to follow:

1. Starting with the unknown element, move in a spiral/clockwise direction; when ecountering the following elements replace them with the corresponding english statements:

[X] or []
=> Array X size of... or Array undefined size of...
(type1, type2)
=> function passing type1 and type2 returning...
*
=> pointer(s) to...

2. Keep doing this in a spiral/clockwise direction until all tokens have been covered.

3. Always resolve anything in parenthesis first!

### Example #1: Simple declaration

```                     +-------+
| +-+   |
| ^ |   |
char *str[10];
^   ^   |   |
|   +---+   |
+-----------+
```
Question we ask ourselves: What is str?
``str is an...
• We move in a spiral clockwise direction starting with `str' and the first character we see is a `[' so, that means we have an array, so...
``str is an array 10 of...
• Continue in a spiral clockwise direction, and the next thing we encounter is the `*' so, that means we have pointers, so...
``str is an array 10 of pointers to...
• Continue in a spiral direction and we see the end of the line (the `;'), so keep going and we get to the type `char', so...
``str is an array 10 of pointers to char''
• We have now ``visited'' every token; therefore we are done!

### Example #2: Pointer to Function declaration

```                     +--------------------+
| +---+              |
| |+-+|              |
| |^ ||              |
char *(*fp)( int, float *);
^   ^ ^  ||              |
|   | +--+|              |
|   +-----+              |
+------------------------+
```
Question we ask ourselves: What is fp?
``fp is a...
• Moving in a spiral clockwise direction, the first thing we see is a `)'; therefore, fp is inside parenthesis, so we continue the spiral inside the parenthesis and the next character seen is the `*', so...
``fp is a pointer to...
• We are now out of the parenthesis and continuing in a spiral clockwise direction, we see the `('; therefore, we have a function, so...
``fp is a pointer to a function passing an int and a pointer to float returning...
• Continuing in a spiral fashion, we then see the `*' character, so...
``fp is a pointer to a function passing an int and a pointer to float returning a pointer to...
• Continuing in a spiral fashion we see the `;', but we haven't visited all tokens, so we continue and finally get to the type `char', so...
``fp is a pointer to a function passing an int and a pointer to float returning a pointer to a char''

### Example #3: The ``Ultimate''

```                      +-----------------------------+
|                  +---+      |
|  +---+           |+-+|      |
|  ^   |           |^ ||      |
void (*signal(int, void (*fp)(int)))(int);
^    ^      |      ^    ^  ||      |
|    +------+      |    +--+|      |
|                  +--------+      |
+----------------------------------+
```

Question we ask ourselves: What is `signal'?

Notice that signal is inside parenthesis, so we must resolve this first!

• Moving in a clockwise direction we see `(' so we have...
``signal is a function passing an int and a...
• Hmmm, we can use this same rule on `fp', so... What is fp? fp is also inside parenthesis so continuing we see an `*', so...
fp is a pointer to...
• Continue in a spiral clockwise direction and we get to `(', so...
``fp is a pointer to a function passing int returning...''
• Now we continue out of the function parenthesis and we see void, so...
``fp is a pointer to a function passing int returning nothing (void)''
• We have finished with fp so let's catch up with `signal', we now have...
``signal is a function passing an int and a pointer to a function passing an int returning nothing (void) returning...
• We are still inside parenthesis so the next character seen is a `*', so...
``signal is a function passing an int and a pointer to a function passing an int returning nothing (void) returning a pointer to...
• We have now resolved the items within parenthesis, so continuing clockwise, we then see another `(', so...
``signal is a function passing an int and a pointer to a function passing an int returning nothing (void) returning a pointer to a function passing an int returning...
• Finally we continue and the only thing left is the word `void', so the final complete definition for signal is:
``signal is a function passing an int and a pointer to a function passing an int returning nothing (void) returning a pointer to a function passing an int returning nothing (void)''

The same rule is applied for const and volatile. For Example:

```	const char *chptr;
```
• Now, what is chptr??
``chptr is a pointer to a char constant''

```	char * const chptr;
```
• Now, what is chptr??
``chptr is a constant pointer to char''

Finally:

```	volatile char * const chptr;
```
• Now, what is chptr??
``chptr is a constant pointer to a char volatile.''

Practice this rule with the examples found in K&R II on page 122.